Holiday Maths: Cruel or Kind?

In the classic film “Recess: School’s Out”, 10 year-old T.J. finds himself left alone all holiday as his friends are sent off to camps dedicated to their interests. Meanwhile, supervillain (and former hippie) Dr. Phillium Benedict plans to end holidays forever to boost test-scores.

Outside the animated world, the line between school-time and free-time is increasingly becoming blurred as the holidays are seen as a chance to ‘get ahead’ with school work. Is it fair to do this to students, or should holidays be holidays?

Term-time is hectic and the holidays can be a great opportunity to supplement areas which students haven’t had time to focus on. This can mean exploring a subject in which a student excels or building more confidence in an area where they’ve been lagging behind.

So what extra work can students do? The blunt tool is to get students to revise during their holiday – the last thing any student wants. The other option is to do activity courses and work-experience which help students decide what they want to do and be. Neither of these options are ideal. Spending the holidays doing homework seems unfair, whilst activities simply don’t address the academic blindspots students need to fill in.

The third option is to do nothing. This can be great, as it gives students the chance to be creative with what they already know, rather than forcing their brains to take in more information. The only problem is that the distractions of a holiday environment: Minecraft, Snapchat – dare I say it – siblings, don’t facilitate this.

In the end, the kids in Recess escape their holiday camps and use their existing skills  to defeat the supervillain (all to a tubthumping 1960s soundtrack). Students can surprise themselves with what they already know…

Students learn a lot at school, but the relentless march through the syllabus, the judgement of peers, and the weight of textbooks can stifle their ability to do exciting things with their knowledge. Their heads are filled with powerful mathematical tools, but they haven’t had the chance to use them. What if over the holidays they got the chance to push what they already know to the limit?  The ideal holiday activity would be a bridge between their existing skills and the real world. It would show how the humdrum of school is helping students build their future. This would avoid boring revision, whilst still contextualising schoolwork.

Giving students the opportunity to see how far their knowledge can take them is far from cruel, it’s the kindest thing you can do.

Ned and Tom are running a Maths For Future Leaders bootcamp from Jan 2-5. If you’re interested you can get in touch here.

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